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Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Correspondence with Peter Kwee

About seven years ago, I corresponded with a man named Peter Kwee living in England. I was doing research for my thesis. I now know how common the name Kwee is around the world. I wanted to post it because it’s a nice short family history.

Kwee Thiam Kiet married Tan Liang Dhauw. They had two children, Aunt Reis (we called her Koko, I need to ask about her Chinese name) and my Opa, Kwee Ting Bo (later Ibraham Basoeki Enggano). Tan Liang Dhauw died when my Opa was very young. His father, Kwee Thiam Kiet, remarried Tan Liang Dhauw’s sister. They had one child, a son. My mom called him Om Tjiang. My understanding is that around 1967, my Opa’s siblings changed their last names to “Kresno” while he adopted “Enggano” from Pulau Enggano.

My Oma was an only child (born in 1932). Her father’s name was Tan Ping Gwan and her mother’s name was Oh Dien No. Her Chinese name is Tan Giok Lian, but it was changed to Lani Sara Enggano. My grandparents have three children: Kwee Hong Liat (Ishak Lukas Enggano), Kwee Sui Ing (my mother, Ingga Ruth Enggano, born in 1954), and Kwee Hong Yauw (Andreas Jaahj Enggano).

I’d like to stay in contact with you and your brother.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Kimberly Interiors and Homework

I have to recommend this book to anyone interested in making housekeeping, home, and interior spaces artful.

“Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House” Cheryl Mendelson, 1999, New York, NY, Scribner. But, you have to read it at the same time as “The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places” Gaston Bachelard, Beacon Press, 1994. My good friend Mariah Johnson gave me these two books together as a parting gift when she graduated. They inspired Kimberly Interiors and Homework.

Sometime in the year following graduate school, I came up with a project I called Homework. My thought was to relate my domestic life, including my social relationships, to my art practice. I had moved all my materials and my sewing machines to my apartment and I found I was spending a lot of time cooking and arranging the stuff in my home. I struggled with depression in that year as I hardly made any work. At one point, I wrote in my sketchbook, “I am working all the time. When I forget this, I really do stop working and then, I am lost.” So I had to be an artist all the time and that meant changing the form and scope of my practice. A few more events came together which led to Homework. Most of my friends who made art started moving away the summer after graduation. This was the summer that I believed most strongly in the idea of Homework, but I wasn’t really making anything.

A few significant things happened (significant may be an overstatement). One, I traded a measuring tape in the shape of a ship to a metals artist named Carrie for a mini measuring tape that read “Kimberly Interiors.” Voila! Two, my friend Masako took a teaching appointment in Ohio. She needed help getting her moving truck and her car to her new home. Kristi Rae, also an artist from the U of I MFA program, and I agreed to drive the truck for her. We both thought of the trip as more than a favor. It was a gesture that I couldn’t articulate at the time, but I knew it was an opportunity to put into practice this idea of being an artist all the time. That weekend, I made short videos of Masako trying to remember how to fold a kimono. I took note of the fact that she desperately needed warm, soft light in her new apartment. Just a few months before, I had been making lamps for an installation and was toying with the idea of placing them in people’s homes. I promised Masako a lamp. It took a long time for me to make good on that promise, but this was probably the first gesture that fell under Homework. A narrower focus for the project was defined by actually placing something in person’s home. I had to love the person, of course.

I placed two more lamps that summer. Two very close friends, who happen to be married, found jobs in different cities. They began a process of dividing their home and their lives into two separate and new spaces. Karin, also an artist, was teaching in St. Louis and asked me to help her set-up her new apartment. I made a lamp for her husband Jimi, who happened to be my upstairs neighbor. We discussed more lamps and pillows with speakers sewn inside that played breathing noises. I was very close to them that summer. That seems to be what Kimberly Interiors does.

So, if you are lonely and in need of lamplight, consider inviting Kimberly Interiors into your home.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

A Real Statement

This is an artist statement once used by an artist I greatly admire. Bonnie Fortune was in a critique group with me my last year at U of I.

Artist Statement for Bonnie Fortune:

I am an interdisciplinary artist and researcher who uses her practice to create social experience and change. My work privileges the immediate, the public, and the affective, in its presentation and visualization. I develop my projects in long-term collaborations; exploring a subject through writing, research, and the time arts-performance, video, digital photography, and web-based projects. I study, and am inspired by, the intersections of art and activism-specifically radical feminist, health, and environmental histories. Cultural memory and repeated iconographic imagery become tools in my art practice to create and explore the possibility for transformation-personal emotional shifts and larger cultural shifts. I still believe the personal is political.

I am updating my artist statement. This is something I think describes very well what I did with shag carpeting and hideous lamps in grad school:

In these carefully created interior scenes, cultural moments converge. Unspoken regrets, altered realities, and forgotten promises are dredged up.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

One Easter in Altheimer

I can remember my black patent leather shoes with silver buckles.
The kitchen walls are Easter egg blue.

My mom peels three boiled eggs and drops them into the shallow bowl. They slide around the edge before settling down.

Bright gold characters pasted on thin red paper.
I bite into a stalk of green onion. The sting is a simple joy.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee


Notes: Read “A Simple Heart” by Flaubert at the suggestion of Sina Najaji, editor of Cabinet magazine (this was in 2007). Particularly drawn to the description of furniture and decoration. The spinster in the story mourns for her dead bird by stuffing him and placing him in her room.

My Aunt Reis was never married. She lived in a converted garage attached to my family’s home in Surabaya.

She rolls onto her stomach and spreads her arms out to each side of the bed, palms down against the cool white sheets. She grips the sides of the mattress and squeezes her whole body down into the bed. Her fingertips are sore from sewing. She presses her face further down; the mattress smells hair.

Aunt Reis visited our family once when I was little. Opa told us to call her Koko, aunt.

Koko looked up at the fruitless trees surrounding her brother’s American home. She stared, horrified, at a yellowish hull clinging to the trunk of the giant pine tree. “Is sah cicada shell,” her little grandniece said as she plucked it off the bark and tucked it into her skirt pocket.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Some Company

This is an excerpt from my thesis These Islands.

To make my own plastic eyes, like the ones on teddy bears, I need to cut circles onto black paper. I don’t need a stencil.
I’ll drip hot glue over the flat black shapes completely covering them.
Some of the drips will look like tears. Like the dog or rabbit or bear is crying.

Inside the room with the sympathetic chorus of plastic eyes, The Lamb and Rex, the German shepherd balance on their good legs.

I am called away from the room with the eyes, down a hallway. I am following the sound of a sick man calling  for his wife, using her real, true name.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Patsy Cline Greatest Hits

This album was really important to me the spring I was working on my MFA show. I would sew all day in the living room and at night, I would smoke out of an emerald green hookah we named “The Wizard.” One night I was listening to the record and petting my cat Sycamore. I felt that she was a very old spirit. I said to my boyfriend, “She is more than a cat.” She was so beautiful to me. Christopher said he could see my joy and contentment and it made him feel even more miserable. I listened to this album a lot over the summer after he left me, and of course, it reminds me of that night.

My favorite track is “She’s Got You.” I really love how each song title is done in a different font. They would be really cool signs or embroidered on sheets of fabric.

patsy cline greatest hits

May 31 / Kimberly Kwee

Real Bad Songs

I’m playing with recording some quick renditions of some of the most gawd-awful songs I have ever heard. I played around with the same idea about six or seven years ago by recording myself singing excerpts from Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance” in a weird Icelandic robot-voice. I just think these songs are so funny. Who does Don Henley believe he is kidding? I know what “dance, dance” really means. I also made a video and recorded a cover of Garth Brook’s “Papa Luv’d Mama,” which is horrifically tragic, but is produced like its a funny little limerick. “I knew a truck driver from Dover, who fucking killed the mother of his children by driving his diesel into their house…he could have killed his whole family, but thankfully, one of his kids lived to tell the tale.” I slowed it down and sang it like a lullaby. Anyway, I recently recorded just the chorus of “B.O.B” by Outkast (this is actually a great song), so I got interested in singing again. Tonight, I found something I started working on about two years ago. I was apparently trying to make something interesting out of  Dan Seal’s “I Wanna Bop With You Baby.” I think Dan and Don were barking up the very same tree. Here’s the lyrics I found:

I feel scared

about the weight of the ice


I am sure

that it couldbe my death.

I wanna bop witchu babee

all night long

I wanna bee-bop witchu babee

til the break of dawn

I wanna bop the night away

I wanna bop the night away

so can we bop?

so can we bop?

I feel the weight of the ice

and I go back to bed

so can we bop?

so can we bop?

I was thinking it would be a jazzy kind of number. The stuff about the ice came from Karin Hodgin Jones’ conversations with me about Finland. When I figure out how to add the recordings to this post, this will be much more fun to read.

May 31 / Kimberly Kwee

Notes on Going Home

When I was in grad school, I would try to drive home for a visit just before the final push at the end of each semester. I could never truly relax and enjoy my family’s company. It felt like I never sat down. As soon as I hit my parent’s house, I kept roaming around looking for something to take back to my studio or to have in my apartment. My little brother said I was “shopping.” I took tubes of toothpaste and cans of soup, some of it I had “shopped” for as my brother said, some of it was pushed on me by one of my parents. I think a lot of people must have had that experience, although, probably as when they were in college. What was different for me, I think, was that I yearned to return with some object that would remind me of being from a place other than Champaign, Illinois. I especially hoped for something I could use in my art that would tell everyone there who I really was. One time, I brought back four garbage bags of pine needles from my Oma’s house. They sat on the floor of my studio for months. I stared at them, not trying to change or transform them in any way. They started attracting creepy-crawly things into my studio, forcing me to deal with them. These periods after returning from home were very hard for me. I was searching for something to cement myself down to before final critiques began. I knew we were assessed, generally, in only one category: productivity. The only question on the exam, so to speak was this: What had you made in four months and, most importantly, why should anyone care? I was never very satisfied with how I tried to answer this question. I thought about what I was doing in grad school as personal transformation. I thought about everything I tried to make and do and “finding myself” and I tried on a lot of different hats. At least, I thought I did at the time. I still thought making things was about making new things and destroying old things. Myself included, of course, as the primary material. I did not know that it could just be one thing, then the next thing, and then something else.

I want to return to the visits home to see my parents. I can see my parents frozen in time occupying two spaces. The diorama I have created in my mind features my mother lying down in her bedroom. She is in corpse pose with her feet splayed out to the sides. She never covers up with the thin blue bedspread, but rather, piles pillows up over her body. My father is always lying on his side on the floor in the living room with his head propped up on his fist. They both have a television on, but are mostly sleeping. I drew my father once in that pose. I always thought to myself, “I should draw my parents,” whenever I visited them, but could never manage it. The thought terrified me.

Oct 12 / Kimberly Kwee

Scary Monsters

Delivering three drawings to Jonesboro tomorrow. Excited about the way I am mounting works on paper. Looks good and allows me to keep making changes. That keeps me from getting depressed. I hate putting drawings under glass. I recognize the need to protect the drawings when they are exhibited. I just like the idea of not ever being finished with the paper more right now. So, this drawing is mounted to a board that I built up to about 3 inches on the back. I like the way it makes the drawing separate from the wall, like a canvas.